Cooperative Play: The Key To Unlocking Social Development

Are you a parent who’s curious about your child’s development? Have you ever heard of cooperative play, but aren’t quite sure what it is or why it matters? Look no further! In this article, we’ll explore what cooperative is, when children typically engage in this type of play, and how it differs from other forms of play. Plus, we’ll share some examples of cooperative play and the main benefits it offers.

Cooperative Play Definition

What Are The Characteristics Of Cooperative Play?

Cooperative play is characterised when children do the following:

10 Characteristics Of Cooperative Play
  1. Children will play together to achieve a common goal,
  2. They will practise taking turns,
  3. They will follow simple rules,
  4. Your child will begin to share without prompting,
  5. Children will accept the agreed roles during a play session,
  6. They will begin to communicate a desired outcome to the group,
  7. Your child will be learning from others,
  8. They will be aware of others’ feelings,
  9. They will discuss and listen to others’ ideas,
  10. Children will also play together and be fully aware and engaged in what other children are doing.

Why Is Cooperative Play Important?

Cooperative play is very important for children as it will form the foundation from which all future social interactions with others will be built. It is also the play stage at which the first meaningful friendships with peers will start to develop.

It has been proven that children who are given the opportunity to engage in this type of play are more likely to succeed socially and academically at school and be less aggressive or withdrawn in a social setting and have stronger listening skills, emotional skills and communication skills.

In short, cooperative play is the ground roots from which social skills will grow.

Cooperative Play Age Range

The Six Stages Of Play Recap

Here’s a quick recap of the 6 types of play you can expect your little one to engage with during the early years.

6 Stages Of Play Graphic

To learn more about Mildred Parten’s 6 stages of play, I’ve written an in-depth post talking about each stage and why they’re important for children. So be sure to check that out after reading this post.

What Is The Difference Between Parallel And Cooperative Play?

Some parents often wonder what the difference is between parallel and cooperative play…

Well, parallel play is when children play alongside each other and are aware of what the other children are doing, but they will not work together towards a common goal.

Children engaging in parallel play will enjoy being around other children but are not yet ready to share their toys or take turns willingly.

The link between parallel play and cooperative play is associative play.

This is where children will play with each other in a disorganised fashion… again with no common purpose or outcome in mind.

When they finally progress to cooperative play, you will notice that your child will be able to communicate their desired outcome and play as part of a group, working together on an activity to achieve a common goal.

Cooperative play becomes more focused and organised with collaboration as its main focus rather than self-interest.

What Is The Difference Between Social Play and Cooperative Play?

Social play and cooperative play are commonly interchanged in the parenting world. And at their core, they are very similar.

However, some experts, myself included, believe that social development begins from the day your baby is born.

This is because your newborn baby will interact with you when you talk and make eye contact with them and they coo and smile in return. Therefore, you are engaging them on a social level and they will be getting a positive response to their interaction with you.

Despite this, what we typically understand as ‘social play’ will not truly begin to develop until your child reaches the cooperative play stage.

As it is here that they will learn to master the skills required to thrive in social situations such as sharing, taking turns, compromising and communicating their ideas effectively.

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Cooperative Play Benefits

Through cooperative play, children will benefit from learning the following social skills:

  1. Learning how to share, work together and take turns.
  2. Dealing with the expectations of other children and playmates.
  3. Taking the feelings of others into consideration by listening to what they have to say and creating a plan that everyone is happy with.
  4. Developing the ability to resolve disagreements (which may not always be successful in the beginning).
  5. Improving their problem-solving skills as they learn how to compromise and adapt to the needs of others to fit the activity.
  6. Establishing leadership qualities through developing language and cognitive skills.
  7. Teaching self-regulation as they learn to put others before themselves.
  8. Developing their ability to trust others and to understand the concept of empathy.

Cooperative Play Activities and Examples

As parents, we can encourage cooperative play by simply providing the right play opportunities and cooperative games.

As with all stages of play, it takes practice, so ensuring that you give your child the time and opportunities to play with others is hugely important.

Try the following cooperative play games:

3 Common Concerns About Cooperative Play

Some children will take longer than others to start engaging in cooperative play. This is very normal however, it can lead to some parents worrying that their children are not moving forward socially.

So to put your mind at ease, here are the 3 most common concerns about cooperative play and my advice about the situation.

1. My Child Still Engages In A Lot Of Onlooker Play

It is perfectly normal for children to continue to engage in all the stages of play, even after they have reached the age and stage of development at which they can take part in cooperative play.

It is important to remember that all children develop at different rates and that continuing to engage in solitary, onlooker, parallel and associative play on occasion is a good thing.

Sometimes we all need a little bit of time to ourselves.

2. My Child Is Reluctant To Mix With Their Peers

If your child is reluctant to mix with other children… they may just be shy. Therefore, it may take them longer to start to engage comfortably with others. Allow them the space to go at their own rate.

3. My Child Stands On The Sideline And Observes Instead Of Getting Involved

If your child is standing to one side but showing interest in what other children are doing, allow them time to observe the room and offer to go with them to look at what others are doing. For some children, cooperative activities can be a little daunting.

However, with you at their side and engaging with the other children, they may feel confident enough to take part and interact with other children later.

If you are concerned about your child’s developing social skills, then you should consult your paediatrician who, if they think it is necessary, may refer you to a counsellor, child development specialist or play specialist.

The majority of children will progress through all 6 developmental stages of play eventually, but the pace at which they do so will vary from child to child and will be greatly determined by their personality.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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